D'Arcy Gue

Health Care IT Vendor Staffing Considerations

July 2, 2014

IT Outsourcing 4 Minute Read

As hospitals struggle to keep up with the pace of change with increasingly difficult-to-obtain staff, many choose to use a special form of temporary employee – staff provided by their systems vendors. This option is most commonly used when hospitals have specific project staffing needs surrounding software installations and system upgrades. This category of staffing assistance has a unique set of advantages and disadvantages that hospitals must be aware of when making staff augmentation decisions.

vendor staffing considerationsThe advantage many hospitals seek when they solicit a vendor for staffing, is experience. It seems logical to expect that personnel provided by a system vendor will have superior experience in the products they are supporting. This certainly can be true but it’s not guaranteed. Vendors are also experiencing staffing shortages as they struggle to get each of their clients through critical upgrades for Meaningful Use / MIPS and ICD-10. Additionally, most of the large vendors tend to use a just-in-time staffing model to keep costs low.

My own personal experience bears this out. Recently, I attended a vendor training class on a new product. There were eight attendees and seven of those were vendor staff – a mix of new hires and existing employees who did not have experience with the product. One of those employees was shortly thereafter assigned to my project.

What can hospitals do to respond to this challenge? I certainly had discussions with the vendor about their assignment process and ultimately decided to retain the consultant on the project because of his other experience with the vendor, including a previous project for our organization, a decision that worked out well. In any case, you should plan to interview potential team members before or at the start of a project, and ensure that their experience level meets your needs.

Another concern is potential solution bias. Vendor-provided employees tend to be biased toward what’s good for the vendor, and not necessarily what’s good for your organization. Some of this is completely unintentional – if your temporary staff member is someone with significant experience, their experience is primarily informed by the vendor. An inexperienced team member often knows only know the textbook vendor option. In any case, vendor personnel will almost certainly not recommend an approach that might involve non-vendor provided solutions and partners.

Vendor-provided team members also can be expensive resources. Systems vendors can and do take advantage of their favored position and the presumed experience of their staff. This means that they are likely to have rates that are higher than third-party vendors which adds directly to the cost. In addition, many hospitals have found that team members from the vendor have a tendency to recommend additional products and services as they each attempt to sell themselves or their companies more work, indirectly adding to the cost.

After reading this far, you might assume that Phoenix Health Systems disagrees with vendor-provided staffing, but in fact, vendor personnel often have particular advantages over other sources that make them worth considering.

Experience: As I stated, experience can be hit or miss with vendor provided staffing. When you do get a staff member with significant experience, that can certainly add significant value to your project team.

Accessibility: Experienced or not, vendor-supplied personnel tend to have better lines of communication within the vendor environment. They can more easily get quick, if unofficial answers to questions, or access to developers when needed, and generally have better access to documentation.

In addition to these better lines of communication internally, vendor personnel often have more direct access to the teams at other client sites. Anyone who has ever asked a major vendor for a discussion with another client who has already done what you are attempting knows the frustration of waiting while your client executive talks to the other client executive about talking to the client. Vendor personnel can frequently bypass this by calling former clients directly to seek advice about how to tackle the problem you are facing.

Availability: Finally, resource availability tends to be excellent. Although, as we mentioned, the quality of the resources can be hit or miss, resources are almost always available quickly when that’s what’s needed to ensure a contract is signed.

Ultimately, vendor staffing can be a ready source of staffing to meet critical staffing needs, particularly when needed for a major upgrade or install project. By carefully evaluating the characteristics of particular projects and ensuring that the provided staff meet experience expectations, hospitals can ensure that they get maximum value from this staffing source.

For more information and to discuss your staffing needs / concerns, contact us. 

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